The Truth About Focus

I spend a good deal of time at speaking engagements and client meetings talking about focus.

Your firm’s marketing plan – needs focus.
Your website content – needs focus.
Your social media approach – needs focus.

As I sat in a meeting recently though, I watched the word “focus” take on a separate meaning to the person I was speaking with. Focus became synonymous with a tunnel or a box – and as our conversation progressed I could see that all he was thinking was, “Oh no, we can’t do anything outside of this focus.”

What is Focus?
When your eyes focus on an object (unless you have a vision impairment) you still see other objects and the majority of the surrounding environment. To focus on something just makes it the clearest portion of what you’re looking at and the one that your brain is taking in the most information about.

Focusing your firm’s marketing should be no different. To focus your marketing efforts on a specific industry (or a set number of industries) doesn’t mean that you cut off ties with the rest of the world. It just means that your firm:

  • Takes in the most information about that industry
  • Looks at it the longest
  • Has the clearest view/understanding of it

Proactive vs. Reactive
Having a focus allows your marketing team to be proactive instead of reactive. Sure, it’s possible to respond to every RFP that comes in the door. (Reactive) But it’s not possible to research every client, project and industry that those RFPs represent ahead of time. (Proactive) It’s also not possible to position your AEC firm as an expert for every client, project and industry. (Proactive)

Proactive marketing is what drives new leads and builds brands. It’s the type of marketing that depends on plans, budgets and resources to get done or else it never makes it to the to-do list. It’s also the type of marketing that keeps firms busy when everyone else is reacting.

Where many firms struggle is in being afraid to focus efforts on one or two industries, for fear that it will prevent other work from coming in the door. “Well, we do have a few university projects in our history. What if we get more or somebody comes to our website and doesn’t see those projects?” This fear or thought pattern is a roadblock to proactive marketing, branding, positioning and more. It also keeps the marketing department on their heels because there is no priority except the next deadline. Any client is now a potential client! This makes decision making and problem solving extremely difficult.

To give a simple example – it is incredibly hard for me to walk into a cluttered, messy room and get my son to clean it by asking him to “clean this mess up.” However, it’s much easier if I ask him to pick up his legos, then put his soccer stuff away. He can process the job because he has focus. Before providing that focus he didn’t have priorities, and all he saw was a mess of things in his room that could be addressed but he had no idea where to start.

As adults and marketing professionals, it’s not such an elementary definition of focus, but it’s a similar concept. If the firm has no focus, we can’t provide marketing strategy or complete tasks as efficiently or successfully. We’re looking at a room full of clutter! Where do we start? Which items are the highest priorities?

Focus Leads to Success
The AEC world is filled with talented marketers. Focus isn’t very abundant in the industry though. Architects and Engineers are taught to figure out how to create spaces and solutions regardless of the environment they’re in (but with respect for it). As such, they are trained to believe they can DO any project, so why not GO after any project?

That can make for successful projects, but very unsuccessful marketing.

Marketing success comes with focus, because as marketers we understand that what’s important is not what we can do, or how much we’ve done – it’s what we can do best and who’s looking for it.